Rebels ‘Wink' goodbye to Yellow Jackets

CHICAGO – The final stat sheet certainly didn't show all the important contributions made by sophomore guard Wink Adams in UNLV's 67-63 victory over Georgia Tech in the first round of the Midwest Regional at the United Center here on Friday afternoon.

The 6-foot Adams had his typical game offensively, scoring 13 points and grabbing four rebounds. But it was his defense on Georgia Tech freshman star Javaris Crittenton, not to mention his hustle retrieving a ball headed out of bounds late in the game, that were also major reasons that the Runnin' Rebels (29-6) won their first NCAA Tournament game since 1991.

Adams held Crittenton, considered a potential NBA lottery pick, without a point for almost 28 minutes to start the game and also pressured him into a key five-second violation with 53.9 seconds to go shortly after UNLV had taken the lead for good on an inbounds basket by forward Wendell White.

It was because of Adams' hustle that UNLV even had possession of the ball for guard Kevin Kruger to find White open underneath on the inbounds play. After missing a 3-point attempt from the left corner, Adams went flying out of bounds after the rebound and alertly ricocheted it off Crittenton, who was standing near the baseline.

"A really good hustle play," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said.

"Wink made some huge plays down the stretch," Kruger continued. "His effort defensively on Crittenton for the five-second call was unbelievable because Crittenton is so hard to guard. Wink made the effort to stay within reach so that the count continues and got the call.

"It was the right call."

"I really didn't pay any attention to the ref," Adams said. "I knew that two or three seconds had gone by. Then I heard the fans shouting, ‘Five seconds! Five seconds!' That got me to get up a little closer. I knew I had two or three seconds to go for them to call it and I was able to get it."

By the time the officials blew the whistle, Crittenton had retreated almost into the backcourt.

"I wouldn't say it was the turning point, but I really wasn't looking at it," Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. "I don't think anybody can pressure Javaris for five seconds in that situation. I would have no way to judge whether it was a good call or a bad call."

Adding to the frustration for Georgia Tech was the fact the call occurred right in front its bench. The Yellow Jackets were also out of timeouts, having surprisingly burned three of them in the first half alone.

UNLV then extended its lead to four points, 63-59, on a pair of Gaston Essengue free throws with 36.6 seconds left. Essengue was fouled after coming up with one of UNLV's 24 offensive rebounds against the taller Yellow Jackets (20-12). The Rebels won the battle of the boards, 44-41, despite the fact Essengue played just 1:12 in the first half after picking up two quick fouls.

Georgia Tech closed to within two points, 63-61, on an inside basket by freshman forward Zach Peacock off a nice dish by Crittenton, who finished with just eight points, six assists, five rebounds and four turnovers. But after guard Michael Umeh (19 points, 4 of 8 3-pointers) sank a pair of free throws to put UNLV back ahead by four, Crittenton's shot on a drive to the basket with 13.2 seconds remaining was deflected by center Joel Anthony to squash any Yellow Jacket comeback hopes.

"I just made sure I was in a position so that if he got a shot off I'd get a block on it," Anthony, the Mountain West Conference defensive player of the year, said. "I was able to get just enough of it. A block is a block. It was definitely better than Crittenton getting that shot off. I was just happy to get enough of it to stop it from going in."

Adams said that play showed the kind of teamwork he had in helping to contain Crittenton.

"It was a team effort," Adams said. "Even though I was able to guard him, my team did a great job of helping me out. There were some times that he got to the side of me, but Gaston, Joel and Wendell were there to help me out."

The Rebels also got big offensive games from Umeh and White, who both finished with a game-high 19 points. That helped offset a dreadful shooting performance by Mountain West Conference Tournament MVP Kevin Kruger (five points, 0-for-8 FGs). Kruger did finish with a game-high eight assists, however, and played excellent defense.

The victory marked UNLV's first NCAA Tournament win since 1991 when the Rebels defeated Seton Hall, 77-65, in the West Regional Final in Seattle.

"It feels great,"Anthony, who had six rebounds and two blocks, said. "But as we've always said before, we can't be satisfied. We're going to move on to the next game now."

That next game is Sunday against No. 2 seeded Wisconsin (30-5), which rallied to defeat Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 76-63, on Friday despite trailing by as many as 18 points in the first half.

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